Event-related brain potentials reveal anomalies in temporal processing of faces in autism spectrum disorder


Geraldine Dawson, UW Autism Center, CHDD, Box 357920, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA; Tel: 206 543-1051; Fax: 206 543-3577. Email: dawson@u.washington.edu


Background:  Individuals with autism exhibit impairments in face recognition, and neuroimaging studies have shown that individuals with autism exhibit abnormal patterns of brain activity during face processing. The current study examined the temporal characteristics of face processing in autism and their relation to behavior.

Method:  High-density event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded to images of faces, inverted faces, and objects from 9 individuals with autism spectrum disorder (15–42 years old) and 14 typical individuals (16–37 years old).

Results:  With respect to a face-sensitive ERP component (N170), individuals with autism exhibited longer N170 latencies to faces than typical individuals but comparable latencies to objects. Typical individuals exhibited longer N170 latencies to inverted as compared to upright faces, whereas individuals with autism did not show differences in N170 latency to upright versus inverted faces. Neural speed of face processing, as reflected in N170 latency, correlated with performance on a face recognition task for individuals with autism.

Conclusions:  These data provide evidence for slowed neural speed of face processing in autism and highlight the role of speed of processing in face processing impairments in autism.